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NoDerog/iStockBy BILL HUTCHINSON, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- Calling it a "brazen power grab" and voter-fraud "recipe for disaster," state and national Republican groups filed a federal lawsuit alleging the California governor's executive order to send mail-in ballots to every voter in the state for the November 2020 election is illegal.

The Republican National Committee, National Republican Congressional Committee and California Republican Party filed the lawsuit against Gov. Gavin Newsom and California Secretary of State Alex Padilla accusing them of using the coronavirus pandemic as "a ploy" to "rewrite the entire election code for the November 2020 election."

"This brazen power grab was not authorized by state law and violates both the Elections Clause and Electors Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The Governor's Order is invalid and must be enjoined," reads the lawsuit filed Sunday in U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of California.

On May 8, Newsom signed the executive order that he said was intended to protect registered voters from the virus by giving them the option of voting by mail if they considered it too risky to brave potentially crowded polling stations to cast their ballot in the Nov. 3 general election.

"No Californian should be forced to risk their health in order to exercise their right to vote," Newsom said at the time. "Mail-in ballots aren't a perfect solution for every person, and I look forward to our public health experts and the Secretary of State's and the Legislature's continued partnership to create safer in-person opportunities for Californians who aren't able to vote by mail."

The lawsuit was filed on the same day President Donald Trump, whose name will appear on the general election ballot, escalated his attack against mail-in voting, suggesting its supporters are attempting to use the pandemic to pull a "scam."

The United States cannot have all Mail In Ballots. It will be the greatest Rigged Election in history. People grab them from mailboxes, print thousands of forgeries and “force” people to sign. Also, forge names. Some absentee OK, when necessary. Trying to use Covid for this Scam!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 24, 2020

"The United States cannot have all Mail In Ballots. It will be the greatest Rigged Election in history," Trump said in a Twitter post.

Ronna McDaniel, chairperson of the Republican National Committee, echoed Trump's concerns that the move could foster widespread voter fraud, alleging in a statement that ballots mistakenly mailed to dead or inactive voters could be intercepted by Democrats to tilt the election in their favor.

"Democrats continue to use this pandemic as a ploy to implement their partisan election agenda, and Governor Newsom's executive order is the latest direct assault on the integrity of our elections," McDaniel said in a statement. "Newsom's illegal power grab is a recipe for disaster that would destroy the confidence Californians deserve to have in the security of their vote."

I am pleased to announce that the RNC, @NRCC & @CAGOP just sued Gavin Newsom over his illegal election power grab.

His radical plan is a recipe for disaster that would create more opportunities for fraud & destroy the confidence Californians deserve to have in their elections.

— Ronna McDaniel (@GOPChairwoman) May 24, 2020

The 27-page lawsuit accuses Newsom of using the power of his pen to create a system that "will violate eligible citizens' right to vote."

"By ordering that vote-by-mail ballots be automatically sent to every registered voter -- including inactive voters, voters with invalid registrations, voters who have moved, voters who have died, and voters who don't want a ballot -- he has created a recipe for disaster," the lawsuit reads. "No State that regularly conducts statewide all-mail elections automatically mails ballots to inactive voters because it invites fraud, coercion, theft, and otherwise illegitimate voting. Fraudulent and invalid votes dilute the votes of honest citizens and deprive them of their right to vote in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment."

Newsom has yet to respond to the lawsuit.

Padilla slammed the lawsuit in a series of Twitter posts, calling it "just another part of Trump's political smear campaign against voting by mail."

"Expanding vote-by-mail during a pandemic is not a partisan issue -- it's a moral imperative to protect voting rights and public safety," Padilla tweeted. "Vote-by-mail has been used safely and effectively in red, blue, and purple states for years."

The virus has infected more than 92,000 people in California and killed nearly 4,000 in California, according to the California Department of Public Health.

While the overall infection rates in the state and across the nation are trending down and more and more counties in California are slowly reopening the economy, the nation's top health officials warn that the virus has not yet been contained and that they are worried about a potential second wave of infections in the fall.

"I want to be very clear to the American people, we are preparing for that potential fall issue, both in PPE, which is protective devices, both in ventilator stockpiles, and ensuring that we're really pushing on therapeutics and vaccine development so we can be ready if the virus does come back in a significant way," Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, said in an interview Sunday on ABC's This Week.

Expanding vote-by-mail during a pandemic is not a partisan issue — it’s a moral imperative to protect voting rights and public safety. Vote-by-mail has been used safely and effectively in red, blue, and purple states for years. (1/2)

— Alex Padilla (@AlexPadilla4CA) May 25, 2020

In the lawsuit, the GOP groups didn't slam the door shut on voting by mail.

"To be sure, vote-by-mail can be a legitimate feature of a state's election process, when coupled with adequate procedural safeguards to deter fraud," the lawsuit reads. "But given the many risks ... in most states it is an alternative implemented carefully and slowly and only with such safeguards in place."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



Official White House Photo by Joyce N. BoghosianBy ELIZABETH THOMAS, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump's first message on Memorial Day was a stark warning to Gov. Roy Cooper of North Carolina that if coronavirus restrictions in the state are not lifted the RNC might move its 2020 convention to another state.

The convention is currently scheduled for Aug. 24 at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte, but North Carolina -- which entered the second phase of its reopening schedule last week -- prohibits mass gathering as large venues.

"I love the Great State of North Carolina, so much so that I insisted on having the Republican National Convention in Charlotte at the end of August," Trump tweeted. "Unfortunately, Democrat Governor, @RoyCooperNC is still in Shutdown mood & unable to guarantee that by August we will be allowed full attendance in the Arena. In other words, we would be spending millions of dollars building the Arena to a very high standard without even knowing if the Democrat Governor would allow the Republican Party to fully occupy the space."

I love the Great State of North Carolina, so much so that I insisted on having the Republican National Convention in Charlotte at the end of August. Unfortunately, Democrat Governor, @RoyCooperNC is still in Shutdown mood & unable to guarantee that by August we will be allowed...

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 25, 2020

He added, "Plans are being made by many thousands of enthusiastic Republicans, and others, to head to beautiful North Carolina in August. They must be immediately given an answer by the Governor as to whether or not the space will be allowed to be fully occupied. If not, we will be reluctantly forced to find, with all of the jobs and economic development it brings, another Republican National Convention site. This is not something I want to do. Thank you, and I LOVE the people of North Carolina!"

...made by many thousands of enthusiastic Republicans, and others, to head to beautiful North Carolina in August. They must be immediately given an answer by the Governor as to whether or not the space will be allowed to be fully occupied. If not, we will be reluctantly forced...

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 25, 2020

The president for weeks has called on governors, sometimes singling them out, to reopen their states and get back to some degree of normalcy even as coronavirus cases continue to rise and officials warn that the virus is not contained. The death toll in the United States continues to inch toward 100,000 and North Carolina on Saturday reported 1,107 new COVID-19 cases -- its highest number yet.

Vice President Mike Pence in an interview on Fox News' Fox & Friends Monday morning backed up the president, saying that if the state doesn't move quicker to reopen its economy, the GOP might move its national convention in August to a state "that is farther along on reopening and can say with confidence that, that we can gather there."

The governors' Press Secretary Dory MacMillan responded to Trump's tweets in a statement saying, “State health officials are working with the RNC and will review its plans as they make decisions about how to hold the convention in Charlotte. North Carolina is relying on data and science to protect our state's public health and safety.”

The president’s comments come as Democrats have publicly talked about the possibility of holding an all virtual convention if necessary.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



iStock/JTSorrellBy: ADAM KELSEY, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- As Americans continue to emerge from quarantines and stay-at-home orders amid the coronavirus pandemic, President Donald Trump declared this week that "we are not closing our country” if the United States is hit by a second wave of infections.

But in an interview on ABC's This Week Sunday, one of the leaders of the government's response to the virus, said it is "difficult to tell" whether such a step may be necessary.

"We're trying to understand during this period of coming out of the closure: How do we maintain openness and safety? And I think that's what we're going to be learning through May, June and July," said Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator.

"And also, I want to be very clear to the American people, we are preparing for that potential fall issue, both in PPE, which is protective devices, both in ventilator stockpiles, and ensuring that we're really pushing on therapeutics and vaccine development so we can be ready if the virus does come back in a significant way," she continued.

The comments come as the United States approaches a grim milestone: 100,000 COVID-19 deaths. The figure is one that early models cited by government officials in the initial weeks of the outbreak indicated might not arrive until late summer or fall. Birx wouldn't say Sunday whether she agreed with some experts that the death toll is actually higher, but said "it's difficult to count at the early part of the epidemic."

Despite the ominous total, Birx struck a cautiously optimistic tone Friday during a White House press conference -- her first in several weeks -- sharing approval of increased public activity over Memorial Day weekend, provided people continue to adhere to precautionary measures, like social distancing.

"You can go to the beaches if you stay 6 feet apart," she said. "But remember that is your space, and that is the space you need to protect to ensure you are socially distancing for others."

But with images emerging Saturday of large crowds at beaches and in public spaces, Birx was questioned by "This Week" co-anchor Martha Raddatz about whether that permission was premature.

"I think we have to communicate through different venues, making sure that our generation sees and our millennials can help us get that message out there -- of how to be together socially, yet distant," Birx said. "I think we really just need to have better continuous communication on how important that is."

The doctor noted, however, that the success of reopening efforts would come down to the public's ability to heed those directions from public health experts.

"I think it's our job as public health officials, every day to be informing the public (about) what puts them at risk," Birx said. "We've learned a lot about this virus, but we now need to translate that learning into real changed behavior that stays with us so we can continue to drive down the number of cases."

"This only works if we all follow the guidelines and protect one another," Birx continued.

While there has been a "dramatic decline" in the percentage of positive test results across the country in the past month, there continue to be spikes in several cities, such as Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.

Asked by Raddatz about additional recent upticks in states like Arkansas, Minnesota and North Carolina, Birx said that some of the increases were due to "proactive testing" in "areas where we know are the highest risks, whether it's nursing homes, whether it's areas where people work and sleep and stay together or transport together." She also noted that one Arkansas outbreak was instigated by a "social gathering."

Looking ahead, Birx said such testing efforts need to be applied "much better," in order to identify those who are asymptomatic.

"It is much easier to find symptomatic cases, because people are sick, and when people are sick they're often not out and about, particularly if they have a severe case of COVID with high fever," Birx said. "What I'm worried about is, what are we putting in place to find asymptomatic cases?"

As for preventative measures, in recent weeks, Trump has faced questions about his reluctance to wear a face mask, despite the government recommending the public do so when in close proximity to other persons. Raddatz asked Birx Sunday if the president should follow the advice.

"I always wear a mask. I wear a mask coming into the White House I wear a mask the entire time that I'm in the White House, except when I'm in my little, tiny space by myself," she said. "I think I wear a mask to really ensure that that public health message is going out there to communities that this is the way we protect one another."

"So is that a 'yes,' you wish President Trump would wear as mask?" Raddatz followed.

"I don't know President Trump's schedule so I don't know who he's with and whether he's social distanced or not," Birx said. "We have said, if you can't maintain 6 feet, wear a mask. I am not with the president on a daily basis, so I can't really speak to that. His personal physician and the individuals who interact with him can speak to that better than I can."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



Darylann Elmi/iStockBY: QUINN SCANLAN, ABC NEWS

(WASHINGTON) — When Michigan Rep. Justin Amash, a former Republican who left the party in July to become an independent, announced last weekend that he would not pursue the Libertarian Party's presidential nomination, the move removed a higher profile name from the top of its ticket.

Before Amash decided to forgo a run, a similar thing happened to the Green Party. Former Gov. Jesse Ventura, who became Minnesota's chief executive by running as a Reform Party candidate in the 1990 election, said at the end of April he was "testing the waters" for a possible bid for the minor party's nomination, only to announce a week and a half later that he would be sitting this one out.

The Libertarians are set to nominate their party's candidates for president and vice president on Saturday, and the Green Party is poised to follow suit in July, but neither party is likely to nominate candidates with any significant national name recognition.

The candidate with the best name indentification for the Libertarians is likely Vermin Supreme, a joke candidate who's made a name for himself among politicos as a serial campaigner for offices local, statewide and national. Contrast that with both 2012 and 2016 when former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson was at the top of the Libertarian ticket, two cycles in a row.

But even beyond the lack of candidate name recognition, the coronavirus pandemic has presented the parties with an even bigger problem: with traditional campaigning completely upended, minor parties now face an even greater burden of actually getting their candidates' names on every states' ballot for the Nov. 3 election.

"With this situation being what it is with the COVID-19 has made everything a lot more difficult, because the routes we would normally take in order to get our candidates on the ballot are closed to us because we can't petition," Green Party national co-chair Anita Rios told ABC News Thursday.

"We were certainly on path to have 50 state ballot access. We had 35 states coming in at the beginning of the year. We were out petitioning. We were going to make all 50 states, for sure," said Dan Fishman, executive director of the Libertarian National Committee. "And then, you know, COVID hits, and it's almost impossible to gather signatures."

While Fishman was still confident the party would gain ballot access in every state, third-party presidential nominees are up against cumbersome laws that vary state-by-state, and don't present the same hurdles for Democratic and Republican nominees, who typically enjoy more resources and money from national and state parties.

"There are 50 different sets of laws," Rios said. "And some of those laws are impossibly hard, and they serve no purpose."

For example, in some states, a party's candidate securing a certain percentage of the vote statewide in the most recent presidential, or gubernatorial, election is enough to guarantee ballot access for its candidates at all levels of government for the next four years. In other states, though, candidates can get on the ballot by collecting a specified number of signatures, but this can be even more difficult for third-party candidates to achieve in states that have an additional requirement that signatories must be either registered independents or registered members of the political party they're supporting by signing the petition.

Kristin Combs, another national co-chair of the Green Party, told ABC News that due to coronavirus, the party needs special "relief" from these laws.

"We are asking for one of three solutions from states -- either that they lower the signature requirements dramatically and allow for electronic filings of signatures, that they grant automatic ballot access or that they replace petition filing with a reasonable filing fee," Combs said.

The Green and Libertarian Parties teamed up to take on ballot access laws in the courts, winning a lawsuit in Illinois where a federal judge ended up significantly loosening the signature requirement for this cycle, and also ruling that so long as the parties' candidates qualified for the ballot in 2018 or 2016, they would be automatically qualified for the ballot in November 2020, too.

While the Libertarian Party, which stopped collecting signatures on March 7 because of coronavirus safety concerns, plans to use this ruling to challenge ballot access laws in other states, it's only a single-cycle solution for a problem that exists even without a pandemic.

"Fundamentally, ballot access is a tool that's used to really keep people form having too many choices. The old parties -- they don't want you to have a lot of choices because they want you to pick their candidate," Fishman said. "It's something we've struggled against for a long time so hopefully -- hopefully -- this crisis gives us an opportunity to say, 'Look, nothing is threatened by having easier ballot access requirements.'"

Rios said that these laws' only purpose "is to exclude people from the ballot."

"I think that trickles down to how ordinary people feel about their own personal involvement with politics... it's just a terrible message," she said. "I have encountered so many people who simply have told me flat out as I'm petitioning to try to get on the ballot for this or that, who say, 'I have no faith in the political process, no, I won't sign your petition because I don't see that as having any value.’"

While Rios said hearing that breaks her heart, at the core of that sentiment is the question political pundits often raise about third party candidates, especially those running in a presidential election: What's the point if they don't stand a chance of winning in America's two-party, electoral college system?

Perhaps the most memorable third party presidential candidates in recent history have been pegged "spoilers" -- candidates who took enough votes away from one of the major party candidates that if the third party candidate had not also been on the ballot, the outcome of the election may have been different.

In 2016, Johnson, the Libertarian candidate, and Dr. Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate, had enough of the share of the vote in key swing states like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Florida, that had they not been on the ballot, the votes they got could have potentially made up the deficit then-Democratic nominee and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had against then-Republican nominee Donald Trump in those states, and Clinton could have potentially become president instead of Trump. After the 2000 election, many called Ralph Nader, the most high profile candidate the Green Party has ever ran, a "spoiler" for then-Democratic nominee and Vice President Al Gore.

"Yes, it's generally true that third parties can spoil an election. It's maybe a little more difficult to measure than some people might think," said Matthew Hindman, an associate professor of political science at the University of Tulsa.

"But generally speaking.... people vote for the two major parties, largely because voters don't want to spoil the election. We're often voting as much against candidates as we are for them," Hindman added. "That's never been more true than it is today."

Hindman said that Americans are "afraid of enabling the 'wrong' candidate to get elected," which has made for a stable two-party system where most voters cast ballots for Democrats or Republicans, and the number of "true independents" in this country has been declining over the last one to two generations.

"We have near an all time high in the number of people recording to be politically independent. But if you really zero in on those voters who claim to be independent, the vast majority of them, lean towards the Democrats or towards the Republicans," he said. "Historically, third parties have an opportunity to capitalize on a large number of independent voters. But when very few of them are truly independent, the conditions just aren't right for flourishing third party politics.”

For the Green and Libertarian Parties, though, it's not so much about actually winning the highest office as it is about winning enough of the vote to secure future ballot access for their candidates at all levels of government. And they certainly don't see their candidates as spoilers as much as they see the country's political structure as spoiled.

"I really do believe that people have the right to vote their conscience, and I understand that for some people that for them feels like they're stuck between two options, and I think for me, it really comes down to educating people that they don't have to be stuck with two options, that there's another voting system that could be easily implemented so that they don't have to be put in a position where they're stuck with the lesser of two evils," Combs said, advocating for a rank-choice voting system instead.

Fishman told ABC News he himself was called a spoiler when he ran to represent Massachusetts's 6th Congressional District in Congress in 2012.

"What I've always said to that is the only spoiled vote is one that you cast for a candidate you don't like," he said. "Saying that we're spoilers? I really reject that idea because people need to have representatives that they can vote for that look like them. If not, then the election is really spoiled. When you're out voting for a candidate that you don't like, that's a spoiled election."

"I think that is a profoundly undemocratic way of even looking at a campaign," Rios added.

She told ABC News that she feels like she comes "from the American third world." A Latina growing up in the Rust Belt of America, she shared that her father was illiterate, and she didn't graduate high school -- didn't even get beyond ninth grade -- and half of her six siblings didn't get a diplomas either. But even against those odds, she and those siblings later went on to earn bachelor's degrees.

"The way that has informed by notion of politics is that we are disenfranchised, and a significant portion of the American people are continually disenfranchised," she said. "When somebody says the word spoiler, I just think, 'Are we really talking about democracy? Are you really telling me that I should not vote for a candidate based on their alignment with my values?'"

"I think that that is just a really, really sad way of looking at politics, and I won't do it," Rios said. "I feel like I have struggled very hard... to have a voice in democracy, and I'm not going to give that away, and I'm not going to cheapen it by voting for people that I don't have any confidence in."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



BartekSzewczyk/iStockBy QUINN OWEN and ANN FLAHERTY, ABC NEWS

(WASHINGTON) -- A top Senate Democrat on Friday accused the Trump administration of treating military veterans as “guinea pigs,” after the Department of Veterans Affairs disclosed treating 1,300 coronavirus patients with hydroxychloroquine – a drug widely being used in clinical trials and touted by President Donald Trump, but that hasn’t yet been shown to be effective.

“In the vast majority of cases at VA, we are prescribing hydroxychloroquine at the final stages of a Veterans’ life in the hope that it has some positive effect,” Wilkie said in a letter responding to allegations made by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. “It is being provided when requested by the family as a final treatment option when all other treatments have failed.”

President Trump has touted hydroxychloroquine as a potential “game changer” in the race to develop treatments for COVID-19. Typically prescribed for malaria, lupus and certain types of arthritis, the drug has not been proven an effective treatment against coronavirus.

The FDA has said doctors can use the antimalarial drug for other, or off-label, purposes, including to treat COVID-19. The drug has been on the market since the 1940s and doctors are familiar with its side effects. The FDA, though, also has warned patients not to use the drug outside a clinical setting or hospital because it can cause serious heart problems in some patients.

A paper published in the Lancet medical journal Friday added to those concerns after finding that people with coronavirus treated with the drug had a significantly higher risk of death and irregular heart rhythms.

“We need to know what the basis was for using this drug against the consensus of science, which called into question its effectiveness in treating COVID-19,” Schumer said in a statement Friday. “We also need to know who is authorizing these new trials, what facilities are participating and what families are being told.”

The VA said it plans to continue using the drug while at the same time studying whether it’s effective in helping stem the spread of a coronavirus infection. A trial at VA facilities is expected for the end of May.

Several hydroxychloroquine clinical trials with front-line health workers and COVID-19 patients are ongoing in the U.S. and around the world.

A cursory review of the drug’s use at VA hospitals earlier this year found no positive effects on COVID-19 patients. It indicated a possible connection between hydroxychloroquine and higher mortality rates, but the paper was largely inconclusive and not a peer-reviewed scientific study.

Earlier this week, the president dismissed that review, without evidence, as a “Trump enemy statement.”

The VA has previously ordered shipments of the drug. Federal contracts reviewed by Connecting Vets show the agency placed orders in 2007, 2012 and 2015.

A federal watchdog in March found insufficient stockpiles of hydroxychloroquine at some facilities. VA said these findings lacked “merit” and suggested in response that “active investigations” into the drug’s effectiveness were behind the supply shortages.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved

VA acknowledges unproven drug Trump touted used on veterans


Oleksii Liskonih/iStockBy WILL STEAKIN and MEG CUNNINGHAM

(WASHINGTON) -- Republicans in Oregon this week nominated a Senate candidate with a deep history of promoting and vowing support for the QAnon conspiracy theory, providing the fringe movement its largest electoral platform yet and roiling Republicans over having a candidate who openly embraces baseless conspiracy theories.

In a now-deleted Twitter video, insurance agent Jo Rae Perkins, who bested three other candidates in the primary to face Democrat Sen. Jeff Merkley in November’s general election, expressed support for the QAnon conspiracy theory, which casts President Donald Trump as a crusader against a web of deep state conspiracies and that the Federal Bureau of Investigations has deemed a potential domestic terror threat.

“I stand with President Trump. I stand with Q and the team. Thank you Anons, and thank you patriots. And together, we can save our republic,” Perkins said in a video posted on Tuesday, while holding up a sign with a popular QAnon slogan on it.

Her primary win has forced Republicans to grapple with having a state-wide nominee who openly embraces the conspiracy theory.

When asked about supporting Perkins in the general election, the Republican National Committee did not comment.

The Oregon state Republican Party issued a lukewarm and seemingly reluctant statement saying, "By virtue of being the GOP nominee, this is what we do - support them in winning the general election."

The National Republican Senatorial Committee would not express support for Perkins and instead responded when asked with a list of unrelated allegations against Democratic Senate candidates before saying “and THIS is what ABC News is focused on.”

The Trump campaign and White House declined to comment.

Perkins’ own campaign on Wednesday tried to distance the candidate from QAnon, writing in a statement that she “would never describe herself as a follower.”

But speaking to ABC News on Thursday, Perkins did just that.

The Senate nominee said she was “literally physically in tears ” after reading the statement posted by her own campaign to her personal Twitter account and bucked her own campaign by reiterating support for QAnon.

"My campaign is gonna kill me,” Perkins said. “How do I say this? Some people think that I follow Q like I follow Jesus. Q is the information and I stand with the information resource.”

Perkins said she misread the line in the statement that walked back her support for QAnon before it was posted and that she would have told her campaign to “fix it” if she’d realized what was being said on her behalf.

“I scanned it and said, yeah, it looks good to me and out it went. And then I saw it afterwards and I am like, literally was in tears, literally physically in tears because I'm so blown away. Because I went, crap, that’s not me. And I don't back down.

“I'm not backpedaling and I'm frustrated. I feel like I'm having to backpedal and that's like torn me up because that's not me,” she said regarding her support for QAnon.

While Perkins said that her campaign has told her “not to worry” about fixing the statement rejecting her support for QAnon, she said “I'm the candidate and the buck stops with me.”

The QAnon conspiracy theory, which has spread debunked and baseless ideas like John F. Kennedy Jr. faking his own death and returning last July 4th, started in late 2017 after an anonymous post surfaced on the online message board 4chan with someone claiming to have access to top-secret government information.

Since then the random and anonymous posts have ignited followers to pore over each line and word looking for strands and clues into the wild alleged conspiracies.

“People who believe are believing things that are not true and don't have evidence to back them up. That leaves them in a place where they're holding a lot of beliefs that are disconnected from our shared reality,” said Joseph Uscinski, a political-science professor at the University of Miami whose research focuses on fringe beliefs.

"And further than that, they hold a set of beliefs that scapegoat particular people for all the world's evils and accuse them of engaging in horrific crimes. And when you put that together, those are the sorts of things that can motivate people to act and we have seen some isolated incidents where people committed violence. based on this considered conspiracy theory,” Uscinski said.

Last August, the FBI identified the QAnon conspiracy theory as a domestic terrorist threat, as Yahoo News reported on a document saying for the first time that the agency is labelling “conspiracy theory-driven domestic extremists” as a growing threat.

“The FBI assesses these conspiracy theories very likely will emerge, spread, and evolve in the modern information marketplace, occasionally driving both groups and individual extremists to carry out criminal or violent acts,” the document states and goes on to say that the agency believes conspiracy theory-driven extremists will likely increase amid the 2020 presidential election.

The conspiracy has grown popular at Trump rallies across the country, with followers wearing and selling merchandise, waving signs to get popular QAnon slogans and internet links on camera with for people to search and learn more about the alleged conspiracy.

The president, who elevated to power after pushing a debunked conspiracy theory of his own that President Barack Obama fabricated his birth certificate and was not born in the United States, has promoted and encouraged QAnon followers since taking office by regularly re-sharing their tweets to his nearly 80 million followers to the celebration of believers in the conspiracy theory.

However, Trump’s promotion of QAnon followers is not bound to the internet, the president has also invited them to the White House as part of a “social media summit” and has taken a photo with a follower in the Oval Office when right-wing conspiracy theorist and QAnon-believer Michael Lebron visited back in 2018.

According to Uscinski, while the president may not be personally responsible for QAnon’s rise given he has not publicly commented on it, Trump’s anti-establishment and “deep state” talk has created a space for it to thrive and the president has not proactively looked to shut it down either.

“I think what Trump has done is create a space for people who are anti-establishment to come out of the woodwork. And to feel like they are taking part in mainstream politics,” Uscinski said.

“It's in [Trump’s] favor to not denounce it either. There have been lower level officials who’ve said we're not endorsing this. But he hasn't. So the status quo is what works best for him. He can keep these people in his camp without saying something they disagree with. And then he doesn't have to do anything that would make him look more of a conspiracy theorist that he already looks like. By outwardly endorsing it.

The day after Perkins’ primary win this week, she appeared on a popular QAnon YouTube channel to celebrate the victory.

Perkins said on the live stream posted on Wednesday, hours before her campaign tried to distance her from the conspiracy theory, that “most of the people who were at our election night party were Q people.”

She also said she’d "absolutely" use the information she’s learned from the QAnon conspiracy theory in the U.S. Senate if elected.

And prior to her election win on Tuesday, Perkins regularly tweeted promoting the conspiracy theory, sometimes welcoming converts to the “QArmy” and as early as January this year she shared posts claiming to have proof of “coordination between Q and President Trump.”

Perkins, with or without the support of her own party, will have an uphill climb in November. Democrats largely win Oregon state-wide elections and Merkley, the incumbent, is considered a strong favorite in the Senate race. The state has gone blue for every presidential election since 1984 and hasn’t elected a Republican governor since the 1980s.

Perkins said despite Republican officials slow start supporting her candidacy publicly so far, she doesn’t believe there will be any issues moving forward since she says she’s friends with Oregon Republican Party Chairman Bill Currier.

Currier did not return a request for comment.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved



Official White House Photo by Joyce N. BoghosianBy ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump said Friday he has declared that churches and other houses of worship provide "essential services" and he's told the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to issue guidance allowing them to reopen.

"I call upon governors to allow our churches and places of worship to open right now," he said making the announcement and leaving without taking questions after calling church closings an "injustice."

He threatened to "override" governors if they weren't allowed to reopen "this weekend."

Earlier, he said doing so is critical to the nation's "psyche" and accused Democratic governors of not treating churches with 'respect."

With the U.S. death toll from COVID-19 close to 95,000 as the Memorial Day weekend begins, Trump has ordered all flags on government buildings lowered to half-staff through Sunday "for every life lost to the coronavirus pandemic."

His order came after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer sent a letter to him Thursday requesting flags be lowered when the death toll reaches reaches 100,000, as experts estimate will happen by the end of the month -- what the Democratic congressional leaders called a "sad day of reckoning."

-- A new study of 96,000 patients hospitalized on six continents published Friday in the medical journal the Lancet finds that people treated with hyroxychloroquine -- the unproven drug treatment Trump has touted as a "game changer" -- had a higher risk of dying from an irregular heart rhythm than those who didn't take the antimalarial medication, as reported in The Washington Post.

The president has said that he would finish his last dose of a two-week course of what he calls "the hyrdroxy" today.

Trump declares houses of worship provide 'essential services'


President Trump, as part of his push to reopen the country, has declared houses of worship provide "essential services" and demanded governors allow them to reopen "this weekend," threatening ti "override" them if they didn't but not explaining what legal grounds he had to do so.

"At my direction, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is issuing guidance for communities of faith," he said making a brief statement in the White House briefing room Friday afternoon without taking questions. "Today, I am identifying houses of worship, churches, synagogue, and mosques, as essential places that provide essential services," he said.

"Some governors have deemed liquor stores and abortion clinics as essential, but have left out churches and other houses of worship. It's not right. So, I'm correcting this injustice and calling houses of worship essential," he declared.

"I call upon governors to allow our churches and places of worship to open right now. If there's any question, they're going to have to call me, but they are not going to be successful in that call," he continued.

"These are places that hold our society together and keep our people united. The people are demanding to go to church, and synagogue, go to their mosque. Many millions of Americans embrace worship as an essential part of life," he said.

After Trump left, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany dodged answering when reporters asked what authority the president had to force governors to open churches.

She called it a "hypothetical question" -- even though the president himself said that if governors do not allow churches to reopen he will intervene to "override" them.

In an exchange with ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Jon Karl, coronavirus task force coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx praised a new Lancet study that shows a heightened mortality rate among COVID patients who took hydroxychloroquine -- the antimalarial drug Trump has touted as a potential "game changer" treatment -- as “one of our clearest studies” out there when it comes to comorbidities.

“It clearly shows that comorbidity that puts individuals at more risk and I think it's one of our clearest studies because there was so many, tens of thousands it of individuals involved, and the doctors clearly annotated who had heart disease and who had obesity, and you can see dramatically the increase risks for that," she said.

Birx’s praise for the study is notable considering its critical conclusions on hydroxychloroquine. The president has dismissed a prior study looking at VA patients that reached a similar conclusion as being a “Trump enemy statement.”

--ABC News' Jordyn Phelps and Elizabeth Thomas


Trump says new reopening guidance will deem churches 'essential'


President Trump continued to tease forthcoming CDC guidance to prioritize the reopening churches, suggesting he will speak more on the topic later today and that the new guidance will deem places of worship as “essential” to make it easier to open amid the ongoing pandemic.

“I just spoke to CDC, we want our churches and our places of faith and worship, we want them to open, and CDC is going to be -- I believe today they will be issuing a very strong recommendation, and I'm going to be talking about that in a little while,” Trump said.

Though the president usually addresses the issue in speaking of "churches," he made clear that the guidance will apply to all religious institutions.

“I consider them essential, and that's one of the things we are saying. We are going to make them essential. You know, they have places essential, that aren't essential, and they open and yet the churches aren't allowed to open and the synagogues. Again, places of faith. Mosques. Places of faith. So, that's going to see that and you're going to see that," he said.

The president made the comments during a South Lawn event with Rolling Thunder bikers to honor veterans that felt very much like a campaign event.

Rain fell as Guns n’ Roses blared from loudspeakers and the president spoke under the cover of the portico to a group of motorcyclists below.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved



The Breakfast Club/YouTubeBy JOHN VERHOVEK AND MOLLY NAGLE

(NEW YORK) -- Presumptive Democratic Nominee Joe Biden has come under fire for comments he made during an interview with “The Breakfast Club” radio program, in which he quipped that if African American voters support President Trump over him in November, they aren’t “black.”

"Well, I’ll tell you what, if you have a problem figuring out whether you're for me or Trump, then you ain't black," Biden told radio personality Charlamagne tha God, who hosts the program, which is particularly popular among black millennials, a voting bloc the former vice president is hoping to woo.

"It don't have nothing to do with Trump, it has to do with the fact -- I want something for my community," Charlamagne replied.

“Take a look at my record! I extended the Voting Rights Act 25 years' I have a record that is second to none. The NAACP has endorsed me every time I've run. I mean, come on, take a look at the record," Biden fired back.

Later Friday, Biden joined a call with the National Black Chamber of Commerce and conceded that he was “much too cavalier” in his remarks, and said he did not take the black vote for granted.

"I know the comments have come off like I was taking the African vote for granted. But nothing could be further from the truth,” Biden said on the call.

"I shouldn't have been such a wise guy," Biden added, “I don't take [the black vote] for granted at all. And no one, no one should have to vote for any party, based on their race, their religion, their background. There are African-Americans who think that Trump was worth voting for. I don't think so, I'm prepared to put my record against his. That was the bottom line and it was really unfortunate, I shouldn't have been so cavalier,” Biden said.

Biden also offered strong criticism of President Trump’s rhetoric on race.

“Donald Trump...this is the same man who called Africa -- you know -- s-hole countries, while also claiming there were fine people on both sides in Charlottesville as those racists came out of the fields carrying torches. He's lied about President Obama's birth certificate,” Biden said.

Biden has consistently criticized Trump’s rhetoric on race, frequently charging in speeches on the campaign trail that the president is “fanning the flames” of white supremacy and hate in America. The presumptive Democratic nominee has also made the tragic 2017 events in Charlottesville, Virginia, when a woman was killed protesting a rally attended by white supremacists, a centerpiece of his campaign, as well as Trump’s comments that there were “very fine people,” on both sides that took part in the event.

Earlier Friday, Biden’s campaign said the comments were made “in jest” and were intended to show Biden’s confidence in his record supporting minority communities as opposed to President Trump’s record which has included a travel ban that affected people coming from predominantly Muslim countries, hardline immigration policies and comments about blacks and Latinos seen as offensive by many.

“Vice President Biden spent his career fighting alongside and for the African American community. He won his party's nomination by earning every vote and meeting people where they are and that's exactly what he intends to do this November,” Symone Sanders, a senior advisor for Biden tweeted following the interview.

“The comments made at the end of the Breakfast Club interview were in jest, but let’s be clear about what the VP was saying: he was making the distinction that he would put his record with the African American community up against Trump’s any day. Period,” Sanders continued.

Biden’s comments that sparked criticism, which came towards the end of a nearly 20-minute long, at times combative, interview that touched on Biden’s views on criminal justice reform, marijuana legalization, and delved into his role in crafting the controversial 1994 Crime Bill that critics argue had a disproportionate impact on minority communities and which critics say helped lay the groundwork for mass incarceration.

In a statement given to the news website Mediaite, Charlamagne said his response to Biden during the interview stood on its own.

“We have been loyal to Democrats for a long time, black people have invested a lot into that party and the return on investment has not been great,” he wrote. “As Biden said in our brief interview when I asked him if Dems owe the black community ABSOLUTELY was his answer. So let’s see what you got!!! Votes are Quid Pro Quo. You can’t possibly want me to Fear Trump MORE than I want something for my people,” the statement read.

President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign quickly sought to cast the comment as racist and condescending.

"Joe Biden believes Black men and women are incapable of being independent or free thinking. He truly believes that he, a 77-year-old white man, should dictate how Black people should behave," Katrina Pierson, a senior adviser to Trump’s campaign, who is also African-American, wrote in a statement released Friday morning.

“That is the most arrogant, condescending comment I’ve heard in a very long time and that’s saying something,” Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., the lone black Republican in the U.S. Senate, said in an interview Friday on Fox News.

Until the COVID-19 pandemic decimated the American economy, Trump has often attempted to appeal to black voters by citing record low unemployment levels.

“The Democrats always play the Race Card, when in fact they have done so little for our Nation’s great African American people. Now, lowest unemployment in U.S. history, and only getting better,” Trump said in a July 2019 tweet.

While black unemployment has reached record lows during the Trump administration according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, many economists view the continued economic growth since the middle of 2009, when Democratic President Barack Obama was in office, as the primary explanation for hiring, according to a fact check of Trump’s claims done by the Associated Press.

Biden’s remarks drew criticism from some activists who say he still has work to do to engage minority communities and win their votes this November.

“The comments were offensive, insensitive, out of touch...It’s just not good for the presumed future leader of the Democratic Party in our nation to say anything like that,” Yvette Simpson, an ABC News contributor who leads the progressive group Democracy for America, said Friday of Biden’s comments on “The Breakfast Club.”

“I think it sounds like [Biden] is taking this for granted. I think he believes that anybody who doesn't like Trump is automatically going to vote for him. And that he doesn't have to earn the vote of base voters, whether they be women or black and brown people or what have you. That's false,” Simpson added.

Others urged Biden to show that he “values” the voters that comprise the base of the Democratic Party, and will only win their votes if they feel his dialogue with them is genuine.

“Joe Biden doesn't get to decide who is black, or what black voters want, or what women of color voters want. He can decide that the issues and concerns of black voters matter, and engage us in conversations that can ultimately turn the election,” Aimee Allison the founder and president of She the People, a political network that aims to elevate women of color in politics, wrote in a statement provided to ABC News.

In an interview Friday afternoon, Sanders said that Biden was not taking any votes for granted.

“If the question people have is does Vice President Biden believe that he has to earn the votes of black voters, of Latino voters, of young people, of progressive of women, of working class voters, of blue collar voters in this country? Absolutely,” Sanders said on MSNBC.

Other experts say Biden’s comments fundamentally misunderstand the lack of representation that has historically driven black voters to disengage from the political process.

“Ultimately, the choice between Biden and Trump is not a choice between: if you're black, whether you're going to support a Republican, or if you're black, you’re going to support a Democrat. Historically black voters tend to not engage at all, because neither of the choices really reflect their political desires or political goals and what they think is best for their community at the time. So in that sense...it's not so much offensive or even insulting, but just mis-recognizes the complexity and sophistication of black voters really at this point in time,” said Dr. Mark Anthony Neal, a professor of African and African American Studies at Duke University, told ABC News.

However, Neal said there is remains a difference between how some black Americans may react to Biden’s comments, and how many feel about the rhetoric and policymaking coming out of Donald Trump’s White House.

“The disconnect, when we think about the same kind of rhetoric coming from the White House at the moment, is that Donald Trump, other than lip service to black historical figures and certain black folks that he has a relationship with, he hasn't enacted policies that suggest he has the best interest of black folks,” Neal said.

“So it’s not so easy for some of [Trump’s] more problematic statements to just roll off the backs of black folks in the way that Joe Biden is such a known entity and known for making the kind of comments that he made this morning,” Neal added.

Throughout the interview with Charlamagne, Biden defended his involvement with the 1994 crime bill, an issue that he has faced intense scrutiny on throughout his third run for the presidency.

When asked why he was hesitant to acknowledge the negative impact the bill and other legislation had on communities of color, as Hillary Clinton did on the program in 2016, Biden pushed back.

“She was wrong. What happened was, it wasn't the crime bill. It was the drug legislation. It was the institution of mandatory minimums, which I oppose,” Biden shot back.

Biden was also asked about his current views on marijuana, and his advocating for decriminalization instead of legalization until more scientific studies are conducted about the long-term impacts of the drug.

"No one should be going to jail for a drug crime. Period," Biden said.

“I think we got decades and decades of studies from actual weed smokers though,” Charlamagne argued.

“I know a lot of weed smokers,” Biden replied.

Biden relied heavily on support from the African-American community throughout this year’s Democratic primary, especially among older black voters, who propelled him to a landslide victory in South Carolina that many credit with reviving his campaign.

“I won overwhelmingly. I told you when I got to South Carolina. I won every single county. I won a larger share of the black vote than anybody has, including Barack [Obama],” Biden said.

Biden won black voters in the South Carolina primary in February by 44 points over the second place finisher in the contest, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt, according to exit polls.

The former vice president will likely need to turn out black voters this fall at higher rates than were seen in 2016, when Hillary Clinton narrowly lost to Trump.

A poll conducted this week by Quinnipiac University showed Biden with a 78-point lead with African-American voters over Trump.

In 2016, Trump carried just 8% of the black vote according to exit polls after making a stark and unorthodox pitch to them during one campaign event in the battleground state of Michigan.

"You're living in poverty, your schools are no good, you have no jobs, 58% of your youth is unemployed -- what the hell do you have to lose?" Trump said in an off the cuff comment during an August 2016 rally in Dimondale, Michigan.

During his interview on “The Breakfast Club” on Friday, Biden was also asked about who he is planning to vet to be his vice presidential running mate, and while he did not offer any specific names, he committed that there are multiple black women that are in the running.

“I'm not acknowledging anybody who is being considered but I guarantee you, there are multiple black women being considered. Multiple,” Biden said.

Several prominent African-American lawmakers, nearly all of whom have backed Biden’s bid including House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., Civil Rights icon and Georgia Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga. and Reverend Al Sharpton, have urged Biden to strongly consider choosing a woman of color to round out the presidential ticket.

“I think Vice President Biden should look around. It would be good to have a woman of color...It would be good to have a woman, who looks like the rest of America,” Lewis told reporters in early April.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved



LPETTET/iStockBy SHANNON K. CRAWFORD, ABC NEWS

(WASHINGTON) -- A group of Republican senators is urging the Department of Justice to open an investigation into dozens of Planned Parenthood clinics that may have received a portion of the $80 million in potentially forgivable federal loans contained within the Paycheck Protection Program.

In a letter to Attorney General William Barr released Thursday, the lawmakers wrote: "These Planned Parenthood entities self-certified eligibility for these loans despite the clear ineligibility under the statutory text of the CARES Act," which established the PPP to aid small businesses. The senators said the nonprofit's loan applications were "fraudulent" and that submitting them could "trigger both civil and criminal penalties."

Planned Parenthood denies the accusations.

"Like many other local nonprofits and health care providers, some independent Planned Parenthood 501(c)(3) organizations applied for and were awarded loans under the eligibility rules established by the CARES Act and the Small Business Administration (SBA), which they met," Jacqueline Ayers, Planned Parenthood Federation of America's vice president of government relations and public policy, said a statement Wednesday.

Ayers added: "This is a clear political attack on Planned Parenthood health centers and access to reproductive health care. It has nothing to do with Planned Parenthood health care organizations' eligibility for COVID-19 relief efforts, and everything to do with the Trump administration using a public health crisis to advance a political agenda and distract from their own failures in protecting the American public from the spread of COVID-19."

The letter sent to Barr was signed by 27 of 53 Senate Republicans, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Ted Cruz, Lindsey Graham and Mitt Romney.

Fox News was first to report on some Planned Parenthood affiliates receiving PPP loans.

DOJ has not said publicly whether it will investigate the matter.

The PPP program itself has been criticized over a lack of transparency, and a group of news outlets, including ABC News, is suing the SBA for access to government records that show which companies and nonprofits have received loans.

Planned Parenthood declined to confirm to ABC News how many loans its affiliates had received or the total dollar amount of said loans. The SBA didn't immediately return a request for comment.

The SBA has notified at least one Planned Parenthood affiliate that it should return its PPP loan.

The Republican senators argued in their letter to Barr that the SBA's affiliation rules link Planned Parenthood Federation of America and its members, which means they're part of an entity too large to be considered a small business.

But SBA affiliation rules aren't black and white, and they've already caused significant confusion tied to PPP lending. That said, the SBA has said that "generally, affiliation exists when one business controls or has the power to control another," and that control "may arise through ownership, management, or other relationships or interactions."

More than 10,000 work at Planned Parenthood locations, including independent affiliates. Republicans are arguing that independent offices adhering to common bylaws constitutes a management agreement and therefore establishes impermissible affiliation, rendering individual facilities ineligible for PPP.

"In order to be a Planned Parenthood affiliate, you have to get approval of the parent board, the one that's located here in Washington, D.C., a parent board that is sitting on -- according to their own numbers, in 2018 -- close to half a billion dollars in net assets," Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., chairman of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, said Wednesday. "They just don't qualify under the affiliate rules. It's as simple as that. Leave aside all the other issues, they do not qualify. So they need to return the money, and if they did this knowingly they need to be held accountable. And whoever helped them do this knowingly needs to be held accountable."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved



Official White House Photo by Tia DufourBy JORDYN PHELPS, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump is eager for churches to resume in-person fellowship as part of his bigger push to reopen the country amid the pandemic, saying his administration could issue new guidance as soon as Friday.

Framing the reopening of churches as “important in terms of the psyche of our country,” Trump told reporters Thursday that he was urging the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to issue guidance specific to places of worship as soon as possible.

“I just got off the phone with CDC and talked about churches. I said I want the churches to open, the people want the churches to open, and I think you'll have something come down very soon, from CDC, we want to get our churches back,” Trump said at a roundtable with African American community leaders on his trip to Michigan.

The president’s determination to reopen places of worship comes as he has urged the people of the country to view themselves as “warriors” in prioritizing a return to a semblance of normal life even as the coronavirus remains a major threat to public health.

“People want to be in their churches,” the president said. “It's wonderful to sit home and watch something on a laptop, but it can never be the same as being in a church or be with your friends and they want to have it open and I think that's going to be happening very shortly.”

Back in March, the president had envisioned packed church pews by Easter Sunday in a bid to reopen the country, but ultimately relented from the Easter goal.

"I would love to have it open by Easter," Trump said on March 24. "It's such an important day for other reasons, but I'll make it an important day for this, too. I would love to have the country opened up, and just raring to go by Easter."

As he again pushes for churches to return to in-person fellowship, the federal government is in a position to offer guidance, but it will be state and local governments that continue to bear responsible for setting the terms of reopening based on the conditions in their communities.

But that hasn’t stopped Trump from casting the issue in political terms.

The president has criticized some Democratic states for taking approaches that he views as overly cautious and on Thursday blame “a lot of Democrat governors” for keeping churches shuttered.

“The churches are not being treated with respect by a lot of the Democrat governors. I want to get our churches open,” he said. “And we’re gonna take a very strong position on that very soon.”

Attorney General William Barr has threatened the Justice Department will intervene in lawsuits brought by churches opposing restrictions if it thinks the constitutional rights are being violated.

Public health officials continue to urge caution as states begin to relax social distancing guidelines that reopening too quickly could lead to another spike in virus. While there has been a recent downward decline of new cases on the national level, some states and cities have reported increases.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



Mario Tama/Getty ImagesBy ELIZABETH THOMAS, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- In an appearance on ABC's The View, Republican Sen. Tim Scott R.-S.C, touted his efforts to combat the disproportionate and devastating affect coronavirus has had on the African-American community.

Scott was tapped by President Donald Trump to help address the staggering death and unemployment rates in minority communities due to COVID-19. During his interview on The View he highlighted his close relationship with the president and gave insight into the advice he's given the president on increasing telemedicine efforts and awareness of the Paycheck Protection Program in the African-American community.

"If you live in the rural parts of South Carolina whether you're black or white the reality of it is getting to a doctor is harder than it's ever been, and frankly for a long time we told folks don't come to the hospital," Scott said. "Telemedicine can bridge that gap and we need to make sure that the reimbursement rates are such that people will be able to afford to use telemedicine as providers and letting people get there, so that's one of the pieces of advice I've given to the President. The second piece of advice I've given to the president that, as a former small business owner myself, we need to make sure that African American businesses are fully aware of the paycheck protection program we have about 100 billion dollars left that we need to deploy."

The GOP senator also said that he has encouraged the administration to prioritize testing for these communities at churches.

"In order for us to help communities of color have the right locations to go visit to get the test," Scott said. "Sometimes you're more likely to walk to the church in your neighborhood then you are to find a ride to a local pharmacy or hospital so I've encouraged the testing to be done at churches at CVS or pharmacies or hospitals I want that everywhere."

As the lone Black Republican Senator, Scott was called on by Trump following the killing of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia and the release of the shocking video of his death.

"The video is really clear, that is murder 1 p.m. in the afternoon," Scott said. "I'm a black man that jogs too and I just thought to myself, 'Do I need to carry gun everywhere I go?' And I'm so frustrated by that video, so frustrated by the lack of response for six weeks, but I wanted the president to understand my frustration and my serious concern that we cannot afford to go back to a Jane's Byrd day in 1998 or Emmett Till's."

Scott also said that he has had ongoing conversations with the president about this deadly incident.

"I wanted the president to hear my thoughts on it and thankfully he called me that Friday evening, and we had a serious discussion about it," Scott said. "I was in the White House this weekend, we talked about it again, I was in there last weekend we talked about it again and I'm glad to see the Department of Justice is at least on the case."

Trump's rage with voting by mail


While the president has been relentlessly attacking voting by mail suggesting that it leads to voter fraud, Scott was hesitant to express the same sentiments. Sunny Hostin pressed Scott on why it is ok for Trump to vote via mail but not an everyday American.

"Let's talk about our election senator, just this week, Trump threatened to cut funds to states like Michigan and Nevada stemming from absentee ballots so people wouldn't have to travel to the polls in a pandemic," Hostin said. "But President Trump mailed in his own ballot this March, even though he was across the street from a polling site in Florida. Why is it okay for the President to vote by absentee ballot, but not for every American?"

"Well Sunny that's great question. I'll look forward to you asking the president that question," Scott said. "I'll just tell you that in South Carolina. If you are over a certain age or if you're at work, you have the ability to be able to vote, an absentee form. I think that's the case throughout this nation in different forms, different states do different ways. The good news is that a local, local counties and municipalities, really control most of the election process, along with the state so I think you'll continue to see a robust approach to early voting as relates to states who have it and then for reasons you can vote early and other states."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



DNY59/iStockBy MIKE LEVINE, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- At least three times in the past two years, Tara Reade -- the woman who now accuses Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden of sexual assault -- took the witness stand in a trial centered on domestic violence.

Each time, before a judge would allow her to describe the insidious cycles of domestic violence, she had to show she was qualified to testify in court as a so-called “expert witness.” And each time, she began her answer by citing two things: Biden’s past efforts to protect women from violence, and her time on his Senate staff in the early 1990s, when she now says the sexual assault took place.

“What’s your experience specifically with respect to domestic violence?” Monterey County Deputy District Attorney Robin Duffy asked Reade during a trial in California early last year, according to a transcript of the testimony.

“Well,” Reade responded, “I worked originally for former U.S. senator Joseph Biden as a legislative aide. He worked on the Violence Against Women Act.”

In the January 2019 testimony, Reade seemed to praise what Biden started as a U.S. senator, saying that “going way back to my former boss, Joe Biden,” there has been a “movement” to “take the onus off the victim” by encouraging neighbors or other associates of victims to report domestic violence to authorities.

She also cited Biden and the Violence Against Women Act during testimony in October last year, six months after she first publicly accused Biden of inappropriately touching her nearly two decades ago, limiting her complaints then to allegations he stroked her neck and twirled her curly hair between his fingers.

According to the transcripts obtained by ABC News, her appearances in court reflect someone who has dedicated much of her life to helping those brutalized by violent and abusive men. But the transcripts also reflect someone who -- when under oath -- touted Biden’s work for women.

In addition, defense attorneys are reportedly now trying to determine if the transcripts show she provided false testimony about her credentials.

Before a judge allowed Reade to testify in a December 2018 trial -- involving the less common case of two women accused of domestic violence -- Duffy, the prosecutor, asked Reade to describe her past education.

“I have a law degree from Seattle University,” Reade noted, testifying under the name Alexandra McCabe, which she assumed after escaping from her allegedly abusive ex-husband in 1997.

“And what about undergraduate?” Duffy inquired.

“A B.A. from Antioch University,” Reade replied, referring to the bachelor of arts degree bestowed on those who graduate from the Seattle school.

After then hearing about Reade’s “20-year career,” including her time in state government as “a victim advocate” and her legal work for local agencies representing battered women, the judge ruled that Reade could testify as an expert witness in the case.

“I do find at this time that this witness does meet the educational background and training requirements to testify as an expert in the dynamics of domestic violence relationships,” the Monterey County judge said of Reade.

A month later, in her January 2019 testimony, Reade similarly testified that she received an undergraduate degree from Antioch University.

But, according to Antioch University officials, some of what Reade told the judges was not true.

"Alexandra McCabe attended but did not graduate from Antioch University,” the school’s spokeswoman, Karen Hamilton, said in a statement to ABC News.

In fact, according to one source familiar with the matter, Reade attended the equivalent of just one year of school at Antioch University in 2000 -- a fraction of what’s usually required to earn a degree.

The next year, Reade was accepted into Seattle University School of Law through the school’s Alternative Admission Program, which provides “a pathway for individuals from historically disadvantaged and under-represented communities” to attend law school, an official from the school recently told CNN, which first reported on questions about her undergraduate schooling.

Reade received her law degree in 2004.

After questions about her testimony surfaced, Reade provided the New York Times with a screenshot of a school transcript from Antioch University, which showed her department as “BA Completion” but left blank the “date conferred” and “degree conferred.” She told the Times that, to help protect her new identity from her allegedly abusive ex-husband, the school’s then-president, Tullise Murdock, helped secretly bestow a “fast-tracked” degree upon her.

But Hamilton, the Antioch spokeswoman, told the Times that Murdock denied any such arrangement.

If proven false, Reade’s claims -- under oath -- could amount to a crime.

In several press releases announcing convictions over the years, prosecutors have repeatedly described Reade’s testimony as “critical” to their cases. The district attorney’s office is now reviewing the matter, and defense lawyers from many of trials are now looking to reopen their clients’ cases, according to the New York Times.

A ‘legislative aide’ to Biden?


The details of Reade’s education may not have been her only overstatements while testifying in court -- she repeatedly testified that she was a “legislative assistant” in Biden’s office.

In her October 2019 testimony seven months ago, she even suggested she was involved in moving Biden’s key legislation along.

“On the Violence Against Women Act, I was a legislative assistant and did research in that office,” she said, according to a transcript of her testimony.

In January 2019, she testified that she worked for Biden “as a legislative aide” -- the same title she used to describe her position in at least four personal essays posted online.

“When you work as a legislative aide, you research the overarching issue of what the policy is or the law is they're trying to enact,” she said in court. “So I was reading and studying before and going to hearings and things like that.”

But, in fact, government records show Reade was a “staff assistant” on Biden’s team -- a lower position than a “legislative aide.”

Reade seemed to acknowledge the difference in a podcast interview two months ago, when she said she “worked for legislative aides” on Biden’s staff.

“Pretty low on the totem pole,” she said of her position at the time. “I was working with the interns. So I supervised the intern program, and made sure all the mail was distributed where it was supposed to [be].”

When assisting legislative aides, she “would help go to a hearing and take notes, or write something,” she added.

The Biden allegations


Reade is now accusing Biden of sexual assault during her time in his office, allegations that Biden and his closest advisers from the time have vehemently denied.

According to Reade, in 1993 Biden pinned her against a wall in a Capitol Hill hallway, slipped his hand into her skirt, and then digitally penetrated her.

The explosive allegation goes much further than when she first publicly lodged allegations against Biden last year. In an April 2019 interview with her local newspaper, she accused Biden of inappropriately touching her neck and shoulder when she worked for him.

The allegations last year went further themselves than previously-documented claims.

In recent interviews, Reade has said that while still working for Biden, she formally filed a sexual harassment complaint with a Senate office, but that has yet to be corroborated.

Biden has said the events described by Reade "never happened."

"[Women] deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, and when they step forward they should be heard, not silences," he said in a recent statement.

Still, "the full and growing record of inconsistencies in her story" should be examined, he said.

In her March podcast interview, Reade said that acting as an expert witness in Monterey County courts is part of “how I channel [the] rampage or energy” that has grown inside her through years of abuse.

“I have spent most of my life hiding from powerful men, be it my abusive ex-husband later, or Joe Biden,” Reade said, her voice cracking with emotion. “I am now at the point where just I’m done.”

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



Ovidiu Dugulan/iStockBy KENDALL KARSON and QUINN SCANLAN, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- The devastating toll of coronavirus is far-reaching, but the impact of the pandemic is particularly acute among black Americans and Latinos, who are nearly three times as likely to personally know someone who has died from the virus than white Americans, according to a new ABC News/Ipsos poll released Friday.

Thirty percent of black adults and 26% of Latino adults in the country said they know a victim of the coronavirus, who died either from the disease or from complications related to the virus. For white adults, the corresponding figure is 10%.

The findings are consistent with local and national data reported by states and cities and reviewed by ABC News that revealed racial and ethnic minorities suffer a disproportionate share of the negative health and economic outcomes from the coronavirus pandemic.

For example, in New York City, the site of one of the worst hot spots in the country, black Americans and Latinos are two times more likely to be hospitalized and to die from COVID-19 than whites.

In Louisiana, although black residents only comprise a third of the population, they accounted for 70% of the deaths in the state, as of last month.

The new poll, which was conducted by Ipsos in partnership with ABC News using Ipsos’ Knowledge Panel, comes as the death toll approaches 100,000 and confirmed cases of COVID-19 top 1.5 million in the country. All 50 states have at least partially reopened this week, ahead of the Memorial Day holiday weekend, as President Donald Trump continues his push to revive the economy amid the continued risk of the pandemic.

As testing across the country increases and becomes more available, overwhelming majorities of Americans are confident they both know where to get tested and can access testing for the virus.

Among all Americans, 77% said they are confident that they would know where to go for testing if they suspected they had been infected. Additionally, 71% of Americans said they are confident they could get tested if they needed to.

Majorities across racial groups are confident they would know where to go for testing and think they could successfully get tested. However, racial disparities are more apparent when looking at those who express a high level of confidence. Whites are more likely to say they are very confident they would know where to go for testing (46%) than are blacks (29%) and Hispanics (35%). Similarly, whites are more likely to say they are very confident they would be able to get tested (38%) compared to blacks (25%) and Hispanics (25%).

Disparate views on testing confidence also emerge by party affiliation, especially when singling out Americans who said they are very confident about knowing where to go to get tested and having a test administered.

In the latest ABC News/Ipsos poll, only 31% of Democrats and 36% of independents said they are very confident they knew where to get tested for the coronavirus if they needed to be, but 57% of Republicans said the same.

And when it comes to being tested, 29% of independents and 23% of Democrats said they are very confident that they could be tested if needed, compared to 52% of Republicans who said the same.

Trump has repeatedly touted the nation’s testing capabilities, saying the United States has the “best testing in the world” and is “doing more testing than anybody else.” But high profile Democrats have said the opposite, including the Democratic leader in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, whose home state of New York is one of the hardest-hit states throughout this pandemic.

During an interview on ABC’s The View Thursday, Schumer said testing "has been one of the greatest failures of this administration” and that he hopes “they learn from it."

The latest survey, capping two months of polling on the coronavirus, shows Trump’s underwater approval hitting a new low, as the country is as uneasy as ever about contracting the disease.

Only 39% of Americans approve of the president’s handling of the crisis -- driven, largely, by waning support among independents -- compared to 60% who disapprove. Just over one-third of independents (35%) approve of the president’s response to the coronavirus, a dip from one month ago, when 42% of independents approved.

In that same poll, released on April 17, 44% of Americans approved of Trump’s management of the pandemic, compared to 54% who disapproved. His newest marks are also a sharp decline from mid-March when his approval stood at 55%.

Trump’s approval is fiercely split by partisanship, with 7% of Democrats and 89% of Republicans approving of the president, while 92% of Democrats and 11% of Republicans disapprove.

Even as every state moves steadily towards reopening, Americans are not confident that the country is out of the woods when it comes to the deadly virus.

Over three in four Americans are concerned about contracting the coronavirus, while 22% remain not concerned.

Those concerns trace along both racial and party lines. Black Americans (87%) and Latinos (85%) are more concerned about getting the virus than whites (73%), with slightly more than half of black Americans (51%) and Latinos (52%) saying they are very concerned about the threat compared to 27% of whites.

Democrats (94%) are far more likely than Republicans (59%) to be concerned about becoming infected, including 51% of Democrats and 20% of Republicans who say they are very concerned.

Still, only 6% of Democrats and less than half of Republicans (41%) say they are not concerned, including only 1% of Democrats and 11% of Republicans who are not concerned at all.

This ABC News/Ipsos poll was conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs‘ KnowledgePanel® May 20-21, 2020, in English and Spanish, among a random national sample of 733 adults, with small oversamples of black and Hispanic respondents. Results have a margin of sampling error of 4.1 points, including the design effect. See the poll’s topline results and details on the methodology here.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



drnadig/iStockBy TRISH TURNER, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- A bipartisan group of senators introduced a measure on Thursday that would double the number of weeks small business owners have to spend their federally backed loans from the Paycheck Protection Program, a crucial change designed to help borrowers who have not yet been able to reopen their businesses or are slowly reopening with coronavirus pandemic mitigation constraints.

Under current law, PPP loan recipients have eight weeks from the time the funds land in their bank accounts to spend 75% on payroll and 25% on overhead expenses, like rent and utilities, but many business owners have been unable to hire back staff for a number of reasons -- from stay-at-home orders still in place to high unemployment checks.

The legislation -- authored by Senate Small Business Committee Chairman Marco Rubio, R-Fla., his panel counterpart Ben Cardin, D-Md., along with Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H. -- would extend the loan period to 16 weeks and move the deadline to apply for a PPP loan from June 30 to Dec. 31.

"The PPP is the single most critical stimulus program protecting Main Street America from the economic devastation of the measures taken to control the spread of COVID-19. The bill that we are introducing today strengthens the PPP to reflect the evolving nature of this pandemic," Collins said in a floor speech.

"We are hearing of course now from a lot of small businesses who got PPP loans, but are saying to us that they can't spend all the money on payroll -- 75% of the money on payroll -- within eight weeks," Rubio said in an online video message. "They need 12 weeks or 16 weeks because they are just starting to reopen now because there are different rules in different places."

Pilar Guzman owns Half Moon Empanadas, a nontraditional "grab-and-go" business with 13 locations around Miami, including in the airport, the University of Miami and the convention center. All of her locations have been shuttered since mid-March when the pandemic hit, with the city just entering phase one of reopening this weekend.

Guzman does not know when she will reopen or be back at full steam, particularly as her business depends largely on tourism, which is at a record low, and with the convention center currently being used as a COVID-19 hospital.

"Right now, everything is closed except my kitchen. The airport is a ghost town," Guzman said in a phone interview. "For my business, and I think for most businesses, especially my industry, I'm closed right now. I have some work. I will be opening the airport hopefully in June. I will be opening the university location hopefully in August, but who knows about that. They are doing a lot of online classes. If the Congress extends the [loan] time, then we will be able to make more use of that money."

Guzman applied for a PPP loan on the first day the program started and received funds from U.S. Century Bank in roughly 14 days. She said the federal lifeline helped her keep her salaried employees paid, though she was forced to let her hourly workers go.

"Extending the PPP loan period is extremely critical," said Rebecca Shi, executive director of the American Business Immigration Coalition, which is helping small business owners get PPP loans. "A 16- to 24-week extension is a big deal for small businesses that may otherwise be unable to bounce back before the existing eight-week forgiveness period is up."

Recipients of PPP loans must apply to have the federal government forgive their loan at the end of the loan period, and in order for that to happen, they must meet the requirements for how the money is spent. Many in the restaurant and hospitality industry have been pleading with Congress to allow more to be spent on operating expenses, some even asking for a further bailout, but it's unclear what more will happen as lawmakers have increasingly retreated to their partisan corners.

The bipartisan Senate bill introduced Thursday would also allow business owners to use the loan funds to buy personal protective equipment for staff and to pay for virus mitigation measures to comply with public health guidelines, like sneeze guards, ventilation system upgrades and even outdoor patios. These would be considered allowable overhead expenses as borrowers seek to have the loans forgiven.

Senate leaders had hoped to pass the bill Thursday, but they were unable to get the agreement of all 100 members when they employed a procedural tool to try to clear the legislation without a roll call vote. It was unclear what the objections were nor from whom they came, but since the chamber is now on a week-long recess in honor of Memorial Day, no quick action is expected, according to Senate aides.

Still, it is clear the measure has wide, bipartisan support, and the House is poised to pass a measure next week to extend the loan period to 24 weeks. It would be up to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to take that measure up.

Earlier this week, President Donald Trump -- perhaps unwittingly -- expressed support for the extension that the House is expected to approve and even suggested a longer term.

At a White House event with restaurant owners, Marvin Irby, the interim CEO of the National Restaurant Association, lobbied the president to extend the loan period.

"Mr. President, the Payroll Protection Program will be a godsend if we can make one change. If we could extend the time ... that we have to spend the proceeds. In too many communities today, the eight-week period is simply not enough time," Irby said.

"So how much? How much time do you want?" the president asked, seeming to negotiate on live television.

"Twenty-four weeks?" Irby suggested.

"How about 30 weeks?" Trump then asked and even threw out the idea of 75 weeks. He ultimately settled on 24 weeks after multiple executives indicated that would be sufficient.

The small business rescue program was created by the $2 trillion CARES Act passed earlier this year, and was so popular that Congress had to replenish the $350 billion program with another $310 billion after the program ran dry in just two weeks.

Since its launch on April 3, this program has provided forgivable loans totaling more than $512 billion to approximately 4.4 million small employers across the country, according to the Small Business Administration, which administers the program. The average loan size has decreased from the initial round of PPP, when large companies like Ruth's Chris Steakhouse and the Los Angeles Lakers were able to secure funds using a loophole in the legislation. Many of those companies have since returned the loans. Since then, the Treasury Department has cracked down on eligibility and announced any business that receives a loan in excess of $2 million will be audited.

The program still has about $100 billion left, and two banking industry sources told ABC News that the reason is likely a fear that the money cannot be spent as the law intended -- to keep pre-pandemic payroll levels -- leaving borrowers with loans they cannot repay.

"Extending the eight-week period for small businesses to use their PPP funds would be beneficial as the coronavirus crisis has evolved significantly since the first relief measures were passed," said Dan Berger, president and CEO of the National Association of Federally-Insured Credit Unions. "Each small business has their own unique needs, and providing additional flexibility to use the funds over a longer period of time will help them and their employees get from crisis to recovery that much quicker."

For Guzman, the program has been a lifesaver, but her loan period is ending in mere weeks, so she says she needs Congress to act now.

"I think it was a great program," Guzman said. "I'm originally from Mexico. I've been here 20 years. This doesn't happen in Mexico. I'm so lucky, but we need to be smart about using the money in the best way possible."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



ABC NewsBy KENDALL KARSON, MOLLY NAGLE and JOHN VERHOVEK

(NEW YORK) -- The high-profile race on the periphery of the 2020 presidential contest - to become presumptive nominee Joe Biden's running mate - is charging ahead, with the vetting committee beginning to ramp up their work to scrutinize the group of women who could potentially join him on the ticket.

Sources familiar with the campaign told ABC News that at least one strategy call has taken place for what Biden says will be an exhaustive process that will mirror his own vetting 12 years ago for the same position.

House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, a top Biden ally, told ABC News that he is confident the team the presumptive nominee has put in place to vet potential picks will serve him well.

"I think that the vice president, the former vice president, if you please, has put together a committee of co-chairs, all of whom I know," Clyburn said. "They are going about the business of doing the vetting and the polling that's required to put together the kind of winning ticket that we need."

ABC News reached out to about a dozen women speculated or confirmed to be on the list about the state of the vetting process, but most are officially declining to offer any details.

As the former vice president's vetting committee convenes, public comments from at least two of the women, coupled with the other tangential moves, signal a new phase for the search - one that is expected to winnow the field down to a few top contenders by mid-summer.

Congresswoman Val Demings, who's central Florida district covers part of the state's I-4 corridor, which is often seen as a bellwether in presidential elections, confirmed publicly for the first time that she is being considered to serve alongside Biden, something the former vice president previously acknowledged.

"I will tell you something, I am on the shortlist and I'm honored to be on a shortlist," Demings told SiriusXM's "The Dean Obeidallah show" on Thursday. "If Vice President Biden asked me to serve along with him, I would be honored to do just that."

Demings, a former police chief in Orlando, the first woman to hold that position, was first elected to Congress in 2016, and earlier this year, served as one of seven impeachment managers during President Trump's impeachment trial in the Senate.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, too, more openly engaged on questions about the process, saying she's had an informal, "opening" conversation with Biden's campaign.

Since the onset of the coronavirus crisis, Whitmer has done numerous cable and network interviews over her state’s response, which has put her in a unique space as one of the most visible Democratic leaders on the frontlines and a possible candidate for the nation’s second highest office. Nearly all of them have been bookended by an attempt to get Michigan’s chief executive to divulge details about being under consideration to be Biden’s number two - a question she often deflects.

On Tuesday morning, the first-term governor finally disclosed a new detail, telling the "Today Show" she's had an "opening conversation" with "some folks" when asked about the vetting process.

"It was just an opening conversation and it's not something that I would call a professional, formalized vetting," she said. "I am making a little bit of time to stay connected to the campaign but the most important thing that I have to do right now is be the governor of my home state."

While the public comments from Demings and Whitmer don't reveal much about the specifics of the vetting process, they usher in more questions about who the Biden campaign is actively speaking to and who they aren't.

Both female senators from New Hampshire were approached in recent weeks by the Biden team to participate in the initial vetting process, according to ABC News' New Hampshire affiliate WMUR. Sen. Maggie Hassan agreed and has participated in early interviews, a source familiar with the process told WMUR. But the other senator, Jeanne Shaheen, declined about two weeks ago, despite being honored to be considered.

Another possible vice presidential nominee, Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth "regularly communicates" with his team, a spokesperson told ABC News. But the spokesperson did not provide any details on whether she has submitted vetting materials to the campaign.

Duckworth, a combat veteran of the Iraq War who lost both of her legs in 2004 after the Black Hawk helicopter she was piloting was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade, was an early supporter of Biden.

The Illinois senator, who was appointed to the White House's Opening Up America Again task force last month, has openly criticized President Trump, while offering a full-throated commitment to getting Biden elected.

"My focus is on getting Joe Biden elected," she told ABC's "The View" last week. "I am frustrated with Donald Trump and his failure of a regime -- of an administration in the White House so I would do whatever I need to do to help Joe Biden get elected, so that we can finally turn the corner in this country and get back on a path where we need to be."

Late last week, her fellow senator from Illinois, Dick Durbin, hinted at next steps for Duckworth, telling the Chicago Tribune, "I support Tammy Duckworth. She’s spectacular, a great colleague and I hope that she fares well in this interview, which I think is going to take place soon."

As speculation intensifies over Biden’s eventual pick, his campaign hired a close ally of California Sen. Kamala Harris. Julie Rodriguez, who joins the former vice president’s newly-growing team to help with Latino outreach, served as Harris' co-national political director. She is also the granddaughter of the prominent labor leader and activist César Chávez.

Biden’s shortlist has been molded by his frequent and candid public comments, and has already been subject to lobbying from prominent backers of the former vice president.

But Clyburn, who said he is not surprised by the unusual level of public jockeying to be Biden's running mate, said the calculus behind the pick has to go beyond race.

"I think one would make a mistake if one were to feel that a person of color is all that is required to galvanize black voters," Clyburn said. "You got to look at what the candidate is proposing."

"So just picking a person of color won't cut it...You got to pick the person that not just got credibility in the African American community, but also is - what's the word he calls - simpatico with him," he said.

Among those considered to be in contention are former top 2020 contenders like Sens. Kamala Harris of California, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, high-profile governors leading their states through the ongoing COVID-19 crisis like Whitmer and New Mexico’s Michelle Lujan Grisham, to other prominent African American female leaders like former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, Florida Congresswoman Val Demings and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.

Earlier this month, during a virtual fundraiser over Zoom, Biden outlined the ideal criteria for his potential running mate and the process he once went through with then-Democratic nominee Barack Obama in 2008.

He said the "first and most important attribute" he is looking for is readiness to step into the role of president if anything were to happen to him.

Biden also added that after seeking advice from former President Barack Obama on his choice, he urged him to look for a partner who is "simpatico" and "agrees strategically" with him.

"I want to make sure that the person I pick is bright, has capacities in areas that I do not, that I'm not as qualified, that I don't have as much capacity, and in fact, is ready to be president on day one. And that process is underway, and I can't tell you that it's been narrowed down at all, we're just beginning," Biden said.

Biden told donors that the vice presidential selection committee behind the search is "in the process of thoroughly examining a group of women, all of whom are capable in my view of being president. And there's about a dozen of them. We're keeping the names quiet."

Both Whitmer and Klobuchar, have appeared on Biden’s podcast, "Here's the Deal," which offered a candid look at his relationship with the two women and a preview of a possible working partnership between them.

A number of the women thought to be on the shortlist have been asked about the potential of serving as Biden’s running mate, most saying they would be honored to serve in the role but declining to discuss the speculation further.

But three have notably been more forthcoming with their interest in the role.

Former National Security Advisor and United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice said in an interview on PBS News last week that she would "certainly say yes," if asked to join Biden on the ticket.

Abrams, has spent the last few weeks actively auditioning for the role, telling Elle Magazine, "I would be an excellent running mate."

Warren, who when asked if she would serve as Biden's running mate said "yes," without hesitation, recently appeared to shift her rhetoric on the signature issue of health care. At a virtual event with the University of Chicago's Institute of Politics earlier this week, Warren seemed amiable towards strengthening the Affordable Care Act, while still expressing a preference for the country to move to a single payer health care system.

"I argued for Medicare for All. I think ultimately getting us to a single payer, I think it's what makes sense," she said. "But the question is how are we going to get there in a way that brings people in and people feel comfortable with it? I think right now people want to see improvements in our health care system. And that means strengthening the Affordable Care Act, we should be doing that anyway."

The formal start to the campaign’s vetting process was marked by the announcement of the team responsible for vetting the diverse group of female prospects, which includes four co-chairs: former Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd; Delaware Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester; Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti; and Cynthia C. Hogan, former White House and Senate counsel to Biden.

"There'll be background checks done...significant background checks like they did with me," he said. "Everything from my finances, to anything on my record from my high school and college records all the way through, to if I ever was involved in any trouble or anything at all."

"It's a deep, deep background check. It takes somewhere between five weeks and eight weeks to get it done," Biden added, before the list is "narrowed down."

Biden said in a recent interview that he believes it will take until July to narrow down the shortlist.

"My guess is it's gonna take until sometime in July to narrow it down and background checks just to who's the one, two, three people are that may be in the hunt," Biden told late-night host James Corden last month.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



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